FESTIVAL OF STORYTELLERS I–A REJUVENATION OF MOI

I’m readying myself to launch a campaign to market my latest novel, Swindle in Sawtooth Valley, as well as the other five books that have been falling out of print recently. It will make six all in all. There will be more and more about this as the next weeks go on. However, it occurred to me that it might be interesting, if only to me, to recap where my writer self has been and where he might be going.

Watch for streaming events and interviews in the coming weeks featuring yours truly. I am excited to think I finally might be able to persuade folks to get out there, purchase my work, and read read read.

My publishing history has been checkered, meaning that if its meanders were pigmented and divided into colored squares somewhat like Joseph’s coat of many colors, it would look like a kids’ game scrambled. Starting I many a year ago I began writing and  writing  I submitting and enrolling in workshops and conferences. I got positive feedback that translated into meager results–a flash fiction piece here, a short story there, etc., none of which translated into cash. I never did have serious dreams of blockbuster success–pulitzers, movie deals and the like–but I did want someone to actually publish something of mine, and I wanted  people to read it and, of course, love it. For years, I typed and typed, looked for publishers, bought countless 9×12 envelopes, patronized our failing postal system (I like to think I’ve helped keep it alive, limping though it is.), catalogued reams of rejections (“does not fit our needs” seems to be a favorite sentence that accompanies the thrust of the rejection dagger.” I of course eschewed what we in the old days called “vanity presses”, organizations who were glad to put your words in print as long as you paid a generous toll. Not me. I wanted someone else to pay for the copyreading, the cover, the printing, and the distribution.

Then, along came Solstice Publishers. Suddenly, after all those years of typing stuff up and sending it in,  The Maxwell Vendetta was ready to hit the shelves, and my publishing career proper was born. Then came The Second Vendetta. A sequel to The Maxwell Vendetta. I had become the creator of a frontier family saga set in a part of northern california where I had grown up, still lived, and to which I was devoted. “Profound satisfaction” is not too strong a term to apply to what I felt about all this. History had always been a love of mine, and here was a chance to pen tales set in a period of history in a locale where I felt at home and to make my work available to one and all.

I then decided to extend my reach. I’d been dealing with people and events of the turn of the 20th century–1910-1914, to be exact. I didn’t feel as if I wanted to get more contemporary than that, so I turned the other way, jumping back into another period in which I felt just as comfortable and with which I was just as fascinated. Bonita was a 12-year old girl living in Yerba Buena (later San Francisco), privileged and spirited. Then it all fell apart. Spoiler? Maybe so. Read it and get the whole experience. The story gave me the chance to trace her coming of age through major events of the mid-19th century. The anglo settling of Mexican California, the Mexican-American war, the gold rush. Her adventures are many, painful, and triumphant. Bonita got a sequel, too. You Can’t Keep Her, traces the adult Bonita’s attempt to discover who her real parents were. I had great fun taking her back to New Orleans as she searched.

Then things went in still another direction. A writing colleague whom I had met through  a mutual internet friend (Les Edgerton by name), proposed a project that seemed completely out of my wheelhouse. Bob Stewart was a native Texan who’d been exploring the history of the woman who was the real, authentic Yellow Rose (know that song, “The Yellow Rose of Texas?”. That’s what this was all about.) Bob wanted us to collaborate.  The whole thing would be set during the Texas revolution of 1836. “But Bob,” I told him. “I know nothing about that event. Plus, all I know about Texas I got from reading the papers and driving through it one time years ago.” Well, he wouldn’t let go. Somehow he thought that his Texas Christian conservatism and my California liberalism could make a match. Intrigued and, frankly, flattered I agreed. The result was The Yellow Rose, the tale of one Emily West (or “Morgan” as she is known around San Antonio, et al) and her supposed part in defeating Santa Anna and the Mexican army and establishing the Texas Republic, all in the course of a few momentous months. We were both (justifiably, I think) proud of the book. I’m happy that Bob got a chance to see and hold it in his hands before he passed away shortly after its publication.

During all this, my book sales lagged from paltry to non-existent. Finally, Solstice cut me loose. I was nicely set up as a writer, but a sad excuse for a marketer. As benevolent as Solstice was in other respects, they gave their clients little or no help in the promotion department. It was up to us to find readers and persuade them to buy our books. I’m told this is a common circumstance these days. You don’t get book tours and interviews and all the rest unless you”re  an A-lister, which I wasn’t and still aren’t. So for that publisher, it was so long, Carl, been good to know ya. I don’t blame Solstice. They had to make a buck and I wasn’t helping.

I’m too old (80 at this writing) to go back to play that mailing game I did for so many years, but I am not ready to give up either writing or publishing. I finally turned to my current outfit, Readers Magnet. I’m paying a lot of money ($900 per) to put my books back in print after Solstice bid me farewell. At this stage in my life I have some money to spend, and I want to be able to get my books back out there as well as the one, Swindle in Sawtooth Valley, which never has been out there. This one is installment number three of the saga of the Maxwell family, that story which began so long ago with The Maxwell Vendetta

So, if you’ve been counting, that makes six historical novels. It makes six historical novels even if you haven’t been counting. That’s my total ouvre except for those short pieces I mentioned earlier.


AIRPORT FANTASY
>

 

An airport you’d think was set up as a place for transportation, and I mean the swiftest known on earth outside rockets and spaceships. But add it all up, the time, I mean, getting to and from an airport, sitting in airport waiting for a plane, for a delayed plane, a meal you’re paying 200% for, waiting for a rental or a bus or some other snailish form ground-wheeled transport, and you have to conclude that an airport is nothing more than a way station set up to block or at least delay your ability to take your butt from one place to another. Or maybe a storage locker for aluminum Da Vinci feathered creatures to rest up before or after some arduous journey from hither to yon.

Today there’s lots of glass to look through more taller and wider than anything I might need but still not enough to see what I really want which is what happened to put me here or what is going to happen when I leave. For I will have to eventually leave I think. There was a movie once about a guy trapped in an airport. I don’t remember much about it except that it wasn’t a situation a person would want to be stuck in.

But, I remind myself, I’m not stuck. I have options. I have a ticket in my pocket, which I could use to board one of those leap-into-the-sky machines. Or I could cash it in, get a refund, and walk out to somewhere else. Or I could skip the part about cashing anything in and just walk out.

But where would go?

I don’t know that any more than I knew it when I bought this ticket to—where was it again?—Boise, Idaho. Weird name Boise. Boy—see. Or is it Boyz—ee? I looked it up once, but those things never stick in my mind. The name itself has something to do with wood or trees. None of these things mean a thing to me or my life, so why would I gravitate toward this place? I must have laid down my cash because of some inner urge I was seeking to understand or to discover.

At any rate, now I don’t know why I started all this or why and figure I might as well give it all up and go back to what I was doing before.

Which was what, exactly?

And that was what she always said, Gretchen, that is. That she loved me and all and we had great times together but that she needed someone she could stick with and she could never stick with someone as aimless as I am. No goals, no direction. It’s as if she said I had no past or future, was born into the moment, whatever that moment was, and never moved beyond it.

She’s right, of course. But I always figured what was wrong with that? I love the moments, the moments of every day. What else is there to need?

Well that didn’t go with Gretchen, so she is now off somewhere else in some other moment that doesn’t include me. And as for me, it looks like I’m headed to Boise, or will be shortly, unless I cash in my ticket, or don’t, or just walk away, or just wander around the airport till someone apprehends me or interrogates me or arrests me. Then will I know why I’m here?

I don’t know. Real question is do I really care why I’m here? Or anywhere else for that matter?

These are questions to be asked as Falstaff says in some play or another as if it made or makes a difference.

I seem to recall that in that play, it doesn’t make a difference, and I seem to remember there is something about blackberries in that line, though what shakespeare was doing writing about blackberries or what Falstaff was doing talking about them I can’t imagine.

Maybe if I’d been less aimless (or more aimful?) about things, I’d know the answer. Or care.

As it stands, I am standing in a Southwest Airlines line, boarding pass number C22 and I guess I’m going to shuffle my way through this door that looks like it belongs in a bank vault and find out what I’m doing here. Or there.

I might even care.

 

WELCOME BACK TO MURDER, RAPE, AND GORGEOUS MUSIC

 

EUN-SUN-KIM SF OPERA MUSICAL DIRECTOR

For the first time in two years we yesterday evening entered the San Francisco Memorial Opera house for a banquet of that spectacle known as Grand Opera. I won’t say it was worth the wait because the wait seemed interminable and we are still in the midst of the surrounding danger and chaos. Nevertheless, there’s no denying OUR euphoria that we and–judging from the volume of cheers and number of standing ovations–the rest of the crowd floated in on similar emotions and sustained them throughout. It’s the first time I can recall when the chorus got a curtain call at the conclusion of Act I. Maybe it’s the way it always goes with this opera, but it was still a treat.

 Ailyn Pérez in the title role and Michael Fabiano as her ill-starred lover, Cavaradossi in our estimation tore the roof off the place. I’m sure it will be repaired forthwith.

Most notable, however, was the performance of SF Opera’s new musical director, Eun-Sun-Kim. I am no judge of such things, but it seemed to me that the energy and vibrancy she brought to her new role had every bit as much to do with the success of the production as did the voices and authenticity of the performers.

It’s a truncated season, so this is the only show we’ll see till the next round, but my lord, as they way, what a morning.

[FOOTNOTES: The main safety precaution was a requirement to show proof of vaccination. A guy patrolled the incoming lines, checked cards and i.d., then issued a sticker to be shown along with the ticket for admittance.

There were no programs. Whether that was a safety or an economic measure or both, I don’t know. I suspect the latter. There were easels here and there where you could download a program using a QR scanner on your “mobile device,” something we were ill-equipped to do. But there’s always next time.

****TO PETER IMMORTAL****

Hi, Peter.

I was in the process of entitling this piece “requiem,”  but a requiem is a composition  for the already dead, and you aren’t and won’t be. Not allowed. Then I thought of “World Without Peter”, but that wouldn’t do either. As long as  those who love, admire and remember you are walking the earth, you will be with us and there can be no world without

PETER IMMORTAL

Not so very long ago, you came into my life as a ninth grader when I was teaching drama at Berkeley High (Well, it was actually West Campus, not Berkeley High proper, but, lordy, you know the rest of the world doesn’t want to hear about that.) You recall we were to do a musical with a cast made up of ninth graders only. Elliott and I settled quickly on Cabaret.  Kind of juicy for ninth graders (you probably didn’t think so), but the male vocals aren’t too demanding, which you know is a major criterion for youngsters. Plenty of female parts. Also a major criterion. And as for you? Even then you could play show piano like nobody’s business.

Well, we did that show to loud applause, and in the process discovered a whole troupe of singers, dancers, actors, and outstanding human beings who went on to perform one show biz miracle after another from Pajama Game to Company and beyond. And you were still the center of the whole group. And come graduation, it didn’t stop.

Many of you in that sterling group went on to higher ed. and professional theater careers. I was privileged to share in all that by virtue of directing most of the Berkeley High shows and becoming friends with many of you. It was an experience richer than most college and many professionals ever touch. And you were still at the center of it all. Whether at the piano or singing or acting, if you touched it, it turned to gold.

Somewhere, in the midst of all this, the way I remember it, you and I decided to create a show of our own. I was the writer, having done some playwriting and song writing. (You’re no slouch at lyrics yourself, of course.) The idea of working with you, an already accomplished musician even at that young age, was heady. How to choose a project, though?

I don’t recall the process we went through to decide on a play about Jack the Ripper. Jack the Ripper? A musical? Yep. I’m sure the choice had something to do with your adoration of Stephen Sondheim. I’m sure as well that the influence of Sweeney Todd came to bear. All that matters not, though. We finally came up with a show we called Whitechapel, after the hard-knocks district on London’s East End where Jack the R. did his bloody work.

To my surprise and gratification, after you matriculated at Yale, you eventually arranged for Whitechapel to become a senior project not only for yourself, the composer, but for a number of other Yalee’s as well. Set design. Costume design, etc. You assembled a marvelous company. Me, I stayed back in Berkeley teaching and communicating with the production as best I could while everyone else was in New Haven creating and rehearsing.

Then came production time. I flew east for a week or so. The performance venue was a dining hall, but we uninitiated needed to toss out any images we might have had of a typical college cafeteria-style eatery. This is a stone, high-ceiling, Gothic Revival space entirely evocative of the late nineteenth century atmosphere of poverty and violence our play demands. One slight problem was that people insisted on eating there. Daily. No respect for us artists. Thus, each day we moved furniture and scenery back and forth and created our Victorian hell. Then, rehearsal over, we put it all back together for the next day’s feast.

You, of course, had been the main inspiration for the whole project. As the music director, you had enormous responsibility, and you had garnered enormous respect from the entire company from crew to orchestra to cast. Looking back, I marvel at what a stupendous achievement it all was. And, oh, we had those dreams of skipping off from New Haven to Broadway. That didn’t happen, but what did happen was the creation of what the hundreds of those of us involved in creating it, and all the spectators privileged to see and hear it, remember as a perfectly splendid piece of theater. More important, it was and will always be one important aspect of my life with you,

PETER IMMORTAL

My eternal love to you

Carl

 


SHIRLEY’S ALL DANCING ALL THE TIME

 

Shirley Read-Jahn’s memoir, Dancing Through Life, is as joyous as its title promises. Not that there are no trials and tribulations in the accounts of the seventy-plus years she describes. No, indeed. But the point of all of them for her is to keep dancing and laughing and hoping and loving it all.

She has such a fascinating background, that it seems like a made-for-a -memoir script, though that was certainly not her purpose. Her purpose was not writing it, but living it. She started life in England, 1944, with her (somewhat) older sister, making her a near-contemporary of mine. Both of us war time babies, except I spent the war safe and sound in the USA, and my father was not a philandering British spy. That’s just for starters.

She grew up in both countries and spoke both languages (her propensities for languages is something else I don’t share with her.) She also had a wanderlust I could but imagine. For that, she was born into exactly the right time and circumstance. Around the world she went, she and her vagabond sister, fully immersed in the “hippie-ness” of the sixties and seventies. Her mother and father divorced, leaving their girls a bit rootless and hankering for adventure, a hankering they’ve spent a lifetime indulging. The countries and continents they’ve explored are enough to make for a full and instructive read. And always, always, fun.

She’s an Australian right now, pursuing writing and belly-dancing. Not many can live up to that sentence, but it only touches the surface of this exuberant life. I feel I know her through these pages, and I will live always jealous of her derring-do and the adventurous years she’s lived and will continue to create as her future unfolds. This is a volume 1, so please send volume 2 our way, Shirley, and soon.